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Emergency response drill goes off without a hitch in Geneva

GENEVA – A fireball and huge puff of dark smoke commenced a planned emergency response drill Friday afternoon at Geneva Middle School South.

Hundreds of Geneva District 304 staff and administrators participated in the drill, following a scenario that included the explosion of a boiler because of equipment failure during first-period classes at the middle school.

Responders were not told of what the emergency was, so they would not know what to expect, in an effort to achieve something close to a true measure of readiness, officials said.

The drill scenario included a partial building collapse that required extrication for trapped students and staff, triage for five seriously injured who were taken to Delnor Hospital and an additional 20 who were taken by bus for treatment of minor injuries. Uninjured evacuated staff were taken by bus to the nearby First Baptist Church of Geneva.

Officials announced the drill earlier this week so neighbors and passersby would not be alarmed by noise, smoke or sirens. But once the drill began, the only noise was the boom of the controlled explosion some distance from the school. Its smoke passed in a two-second puff, and no screaming could be heard. None of the emergency vehicles that responded to the simulated emrgency – ambulance, fire truck or police –  had activated sirens.

News reporters, photographers and official observers from various agencies were confined to a small area near the track and not allowed inside the school where actual rescue simulation was occurring.

Media members were not allowed near the evacuated or simulated injured staff or in the school where rescue and extrication was to be carried out.

Officials said restricting media from inside the school, hospital and church was for logistical and safety concerns. Media was allowed inside the school when the makeup for simulated injuries was being applied to participants in the hour before the drill commenced.

A security staff member who stopped a reporter from talking to drill participants at the Baptist church said in a real emergency, officials would not allow media in, so media would not be allowed in during a drill.

None of the officials who were observing the drill could comment.

In all, more than 600 of the district's staff portrayed building staff, students, parents and part of the reunification team that reunited injured students with their parents at the church, officials said in a release. No students participated in the drill, as all left before it started because of an early dismissal, officials said.

Other than the school district, agencies involved included the Geneva Police and Fire Departments, Geneva Park District, Kane County Emergency Management, Kane County Sheriff, Elburn and Countryside Fire Protection District, First Baptist Church of Geneva , Mid-Valley Special Education Cooperative, Tri-Com Emergency Dispatch and Delnor Hospital. The drill was funded by a $375,000 federal Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools grant and took about 2 1/2 years to coordinate and organize, officials said.

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